Bloom With a View
I am very pleased to be able to add a work by Bryan Pearce to the Art on Paper gallery shop. I am always on the lookout for his work, but it frequently reaches very high prices at auction.
Bryan Pearce (1929 – 2007) was Cornish born and bred. His work is instantly recognisable and I became familiar with it on holiday in Penzance many years ago. Pearce was born and raised in St Ives – a town that has inspired artists and schools of painters since the late 1800s. Unlike most of the artists drawn to St Ives, he was rooted in the town from birth.
Pearce had a genetic condition; Phenylketonuria or PKU. This is an inherited condition that, without treatment, can damage the brain and nervous system leading to learning disabilities. Both Bryan and his sister Margaretta suffered from this disorder. His sister died at the age of 19, and Bryan was not diagnosed until he was thirty. The untreated condition meant that Pearce was diligent and precise but was unable to manage things beyond his particular routines. After leaving school he helped his father in his butchers shop, played the piano and indulged in his passion to read about and watch steam trains. It was not until the age of 24 that Bryan began his journey as a visual artist. Supported by his mother (herself a painter) and her friends, he began to develop his own distinct style.
Bryan compressed scenes into a flat surface, creating a flattened designed plane. He loved to paint the harbour and town of St Ives but also painted still life scenes. By the late 1950s he was a member of the Penwith Society of artists and was regularly selling work. He had his first one-man show at the Newlyn Art Gallery in 1958, supported by the then chairman, Peter Lanyon. He started out with watercolours, but then moved to work in oil. His oil on board works are stunning. Later, in the 1980s, he started making smaller work, in conté crayons on paper, as the rising market prices of his oil on board work became too expensive for many to afford.
Bryan Pearce was exhibiting with the avant-garde artists living and working in St Ives and his original style sat well amongst his contemporaries. His mother worked tirelessly to provide a stable environment in which he could work, but also to create a network of people who loved him, appreciated his work and who would help him with his career. Pearce was well loved and supported throughout his life by his whole family and by the influential group of supporters gathered by his mother.
Alan Bowness, a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute (and later Directer of the Tate Gallery) wrote an introduction to a show of Pearces work at The New Art Centre in London in 1966. Jim Ede bought pieces for his gallery Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, to hang alongside work by other St Ives artists including Alfred Wallis. Ruth and Eric Jones opened the Sheviock Gallery in Cornwall where Pearce exhibited, and they arranged the first production of a series of screen prints of Pearce’s work.
In the early 1970s, Pearce was able to move into his own studio space in the Porthmeor complex. In 1975 he had a one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford whose director at the time was Nicholas Serota (later also a director of the Tate Gallery). In 1985, two of Pearce’s works were shown at the Tate Gallery in a group show “St Ives 1939 – 64: Twenty Five Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery”
In 1999 – 2000 a major retrospective of Pearce’s work took place at the Royal Cornwall Museum, which then became the first solo exhibition at the Penwith Gallery. In 2004 Bryan Pearce and his artist friends (including Hepworth and Lanyon) showed at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath before traveling to Truro.
An exhibition of Peace’s work was due to take place at Tate St Ives, Jan – April 2007. He died in the new year before the show opened.
Mary, his mother, was a constant support in his personal and professional life. Younger artists in St Ives continued to support him in his work as Mary became less able to travel. Rose and Nelson Rands produced his silk screen prints from the mid-nineties until his death, (of which our Arum Lilies is one). Mary died at the age of 91 in 1997. The work Mary had done to promote her son, invest his earnings and protect his interests, provided him with the financial, domestic and professional stability to continue to work and live until his own death in 2007.
What a story of love, support and friendship. A whole army of people who admired and protected the art and life of this artist, and made it possible for him to flourish. A collection of Pearce’s work and personal effects was bequeathed to The Royal Institute of Cornwall, to preserve this legacy.
I am so happy that I can finally share with you a work by Bryan Pearce. It is currently on our Portland H.Q. wall, having a still life face-off with a Mary Feddon lithograph that is hanging on the opposite wall. An absolute treat for me to feel their warmth through the chilly winds of January.